i've been reading since i was 3 years old, and i currently work in a bookstore, so i'm surrounded by books ALL the time. i read over 3 books a week, easily! these reviews will mostly be on teen books, since that's what i read, but really anything at all could show up here!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beneath The Glitter - Elle & Blair Fowler

Anyone who knows me at all in real life knows that I'm not the most fashionable person around. I never was (awkward high school 'emo' years anyone?). I can't be bothered to choose clothes and coordinate outfits! Makeup is no better - when I'm not too lazy to just leave the house bare-faced, I stick to the same two looks. It's not that I don't want to look good... I'm just the laziest person ever. That being said, I LOVE fashion and makeup. I buy magazines like Nylon on a regular basis, read fashion blogs, and subscribe to some fashion and makeup Youtubers. So when I saw that Elle & Blair Fowler wrote their own book based in part on their life, I had to read it.

If you don't know who they are, head on over here to Blair's Youtube channel and watch some videos.

Watched some videos? Welcome back! Looking at the premise of this book, it's very easy to draw similarities between Elle and Blair's real-life Youtube career and that of their characters, Sophia and Ava. In both cases, two sisters move from the southeastern US to Los Angeles to pursue their budding career as fashion and makeup bloggers. They're rich and fabulous: they have lots of sponsors and deals lined up, they date the rich and famous, are on the guestlist of some of the hottest parties around, and charm the pants off of pretty much everyone they run into. The sisters are total opposites, but complement each other. How do we know this? One sister is blonde, the other brunette. One has a pet dog, the other has a cat. One sister looks before she leaps, and the other dives in. If one sister does something in this book, you can pretty much expect her sister to do the polar opposite. Y'know. Because they're different.

It sounds like I'm ragging on this book. I'm not. It's pretty much what I was expecting; you're not going to get Moby Dick out of Elle and Blair Fowler. The book delivers what it promises: a fun romp full of fashion, gossip, and fame. The sisters in Beneath the Glitter get into their fair share of drama and trouble, and it was fun to read about their mishaps and adventures. The writing isn't spectacular, but it's better quality than some of the other books out there right now. At the end of every chapter we're given a list of "LonDOs" and "LonDON'Ts", which essentially recap what happened in the last chapter for anyone who missed something. Which you shouldn't have, because the book is extremely straightforward.

The characters were pretty straightforward. The sisters bickered like real sisters, and their relationship was the most explored. I could relate to Sophia and her issues with her younger sister, as I'm an older sister myself and have gone through similar experiences. Some of the secondary characters (MM and Sven) seemed interesting, but only made arbitrary appearances that didn't really help to push the plot forward or offer much development.

No review of this book would be complete without drawing similarities between Beneath the Glitter and Lauren Conrad's books. Both series involve the main characters moving to L.A. to pursue a media-related career, similar to that of the author. Of course, the main characters discover that not everybody in L.A. is what they seem, and that backstabbing and secrets are as common as Old Navy stores in a mall.

By the end of the book, we finally start to get some action. It's a much-needed change, as the rest of the book revolves around family drama, parties, and the girls' day-to-day lives (working at the animal shelter! going on dates! shaving their legs!). Unfortunately, it comes a little too late in the game, and just as things start to get interesting we're given a cliffhanger and told to wait for the next book (Summer 2013). I was hoping that this would be a one-off novel, as once I start a series I HAVE to finish it. But it looks like there's more Elle and Blair in my future.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the Youtube career- the WHOLE REASON for the sisters moving to L.A.- is only briefly touched on. Most of the Youtubers I watch on a regular basis work very hard. Smosh and Pewdiepie post videos pretty much every day of the week. The girls at WonderlandWardrobe and CutiePieMarzia, both fashion and beauty bloggers, post regularly. Ava and Sophia London, on the other hand, never actually work on a video or even visit the website. I know that it would be boring to read about people browsing and uploading to Youtube for a whole book and that the girls were working on expanding their brand and creating a line, but if you advertise a book as being about two Youtubing sisters, I want some Youtube, dammit! The book was certainly enjoyable for the fluff that it is, but there was nothing about it to make it stand out from the pack. Worth reading if you're a fan of the girls or want a beach read.

SCORE: 6.9/10
IF YOU LIKE: L.A. Candy (Lauren Conrad), Burn for Burn (Jenny Han)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Born Wicked - Jessica Spotswood

So today we're here to cover a book I loaned from work last week. I've never heard of the author or the series, and I honestly didn't even bother reading the jacket before I took it home. Sometimes this 'blind run' really works for me, and other times it completely backfires (I'm looking at you, Above).

This is historical (though alternate-universe historical) fiction about witches. The novel revolves around three sisters, the Cahills, whose mother has passed away, leaving the oldest daughter in charge of keeping her sisters safe. Having been raised without the presence of an older motherly figure in their lives, they are not as ladylike and refined as society would like. In this time period this would already be a problem, but the Cahills have it worse: in their world, society lives in fear of witches, who are known to be evil creatures who will trick you and can even turn your own mind against you. This fear is instilled by the Brotherhood, a group of men who essentially run the show. Their female counterparts are the Sisters, a group of secretive unmarried women who are always searching for new young women to recruit. If one is found to be a witch, they are sent away to institutions from which they will never return. While everyone in this world lives in fear, the Cahills have more to lose than most - all three of the sisters are witches, as was their mother.

As usual, we'll begin with the characters. Cate, the main character, was well written in my opinion. Her motives were always clear, though her actions did not always reflect that. As an older sister myself, I can understand being protective of younger siblings. In fact, whenever Cate even began to think of her own life and happiness she would dismiss it because it wouldn't benefit her sisters in anyway. Sure, she was controlling of them, and sure, she overreacted about some things that were way less of a big deal than she made them to be. But hey, she's thinking of her family here. And I'm totally cool with that. Something to mention is that there was a bit of a love triangle happening here, though it was slightly less in-your-face than it has been in other books. For one of the first times ever, I wasn't really rooting for one character or another, either. Both boys had their merits and shortcomings and would be equally good for our main character.

Now, something I have to complain about a little. This paragraph will contain MINOR SPOILERS so if you really don't want to know anything about this book before reading it, please continue on to the next spoiler free paragraph and pretend you never saw this. Go on. Are you still reading? Do you WANT to be still reading? Cool. Anyways, so something I really have to mention is this whole "mind magic is so rare, but everyone I know seems to have it!" thing. Even the characters themselves comment on how many people seem to be able to do this supposedly rare form of magic. I won't do a count of how many people can do it, as I don't want to give away too many spoilers here, but it's more than a few. Maybe they'll address this in the next book, but it just seemed strange to spend so much time talking about how nobody can ever do this kind of magic (though the Brothers seem to think that it's everywhere, but that's mostly to scare people) and then it starts popping up in all these characters like it's just some garden-variety power. Again, maybe this was intentional, but it definitely bugged me.

Much of this book felt like setup for the next novels, which made it slow at times, but I think that in the end it works to this book's advantage. You don't see too much of the magic that the characters can do, and we're not given all the facts right off the bat. It was a refreshing departure from many of the books who jump into the action right away and rush the endings. While this might not work for every reader, I think that this book (which until the last third can almost be seen as a prologue to the actual story) does a great job of setting the scene and introducing the world and the concepts.

If you're into romance and good storytelling and magic, this book is for you. If you're looking for action and excitement you'd probably be better off looking elsewhere, but I urge you to give this book a chance. I look forward to reading Ms. Spotswood's other books.

SCORE: 7.4/10
IF YOU LIKE: Grave Mercy (Robin LaFevers), Masque Of The Red Death (Bethany Griffin)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cracked Up To Be - Courtney Summers

So today, we're covering an oldie. This book was originally released in 2009, is by a Canadian author (!) and is a first time novel. I bought this one at a church book sale a few months ago for something ridiculously cheap so I'm not sure if it's still available in bookstores.

Parker Fadley was once your typical perfect high school girl. She's pretty, got great grades, was captain of the cheerleading squad, and dated the most popular boy at school. She wasn't a 'mean girl' by any means, either; people genuinely liked her, and she was a shoo-in to be valedictorian for her senior class. Recently, though, Parker has completely changed. She won't say why, and nobody knows how it happened, but she is no longer the person she once was. It's even gotten so bad that her parents have gotten involved and have put her on suicide watch. How did a girl like this fall so far? Jake, a nice boy at school who Parker wants nothing to do with, wants to find out. The question is, will Parker let down her guard enough for Jake to get in?

This book was so well-written. Parker is an anti-hero, and that's one of the things I loved most about this book: she's destructive, she's withdrawn, and she's not somebody that you want to be. She's probably not even someone you'd want to know. But she's incredibly intriguing, and Summers does a great job creating a sense of mystery around her. I had fun trying to figure out what exactly Parker had done to become this way. I was rooting for her, but not in the usual sense. I didn't want her to keep ruining her life - I wanted her to take the help she so desperately needed and turn her life around. She's not a likeable character, but she's not supposed to be. She's a damaged character that I was feeling empathy for by the end of the book.

The supporting characters were equally developed. I enjoyed the character of Jake, and even more so the dog, Bailey. Both of them gave Parker something to lean on when she didn't even realize she needed it herself. Jake had problems of his own and wasn't around as simply the 'perfect' love interest. There was a bit of a love triangle, but it wasn't overdone or too cliche. In fact, the whole book avoided the general cliches that I find in a lot of books. While some cliches are obviously present, they were written into the narrative in a way that made it feel like they belonged there. It's high school, and high school is full of cliches.

Overall, I thought the book was good. Sure, the ending could have been handled a bit better (the last few chapters of novels often seem a bit rushed to me) but I'm happy with the way it turned out. The ending is hopeful, but flawed. Not completely a happy ending, but gives enough closure. Things in real life aren't suddenly resolved with sunshine and rainbows, and Summers stayed true to real life.

It's not often I read a teen novel set in contemporary America with no paranormal aspects; they all seem very similar to me. Summers' novel is absolutely worth reading, though, and didn't feel like a rehashing of all the other high school centric novels I've read before. Recommended, especially for readers who like their characters to be interesting but flawed.

SCORE: 7/10
IF YOU LIKE: Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson), Some Girls Are (Courtney Summers)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

GIVEAWAY - The Hallowed Ones

One of my favourite authors, Lauren DeStefano, is giving away a book over at her blog.

This book, The Hallowed Ones, is a horror/thriller for teens about the Amish. (Yeah - finally something that hasn't been done!) It sounds fantastic, and I'm not just saying that because I trust Lauren's book recommendations completely.

Did I mention that this was an ARC? That's right, THIS BOOK IS NOT OUT YET! Think about it. If you win, you'll be one of the first people to read this. You can brag about it or something.

I can hear you now: So, Meghan, how can I win this incredible, free book? And how can I ever possibly thank you for letting me know about this?

Well, the answer is extremely complicated totally simple. Except maybe the second part of the question, because we all know there's no way you could ever possibly repay me enough. First off, this giveaway is international. I double checked this. You can win this if you live in the US, in Canada, or Antarctica. Lauren says that she will deliver to the moon. All you have to do is tell someone about this contest. Facebook it. Tweet it. Blog it. Tumblr it. Whatever. Just let the world know that Lauren is better than everyone else for giving away free stuff.

Once you've done that, mosey on over to her blog. Comment on it and link your post, wherever that may be. She'll choose 11 winners (only one will get the book, the rest get other cool swag) and who knows, maybe that could be you!

Oh, and there's a deadline on this. You didn't think you had forever to do this, right? It's a limited time offer. May 27th, 2012 is the last day to get in on this.

If you win, let me know how the book is. If I win, I'll let you know how awesome it is.

Uninvited - Justine Musk

Not long ago I buckled down to read a book that had been in my to-read pile for years. Generally this isn't a very good sign, but regardless Uninvited intrigued me with the plot description on the back and a quote from Holly Black saying she loved it. It seemed like a quick read, so I decided to give it a real try after going through a few failed trial runs.

It was worth it.

Kelly has turned to drugs and other forms of escape since her brother, Jasper, walked away from a car accident where two others died and never returned. She absolutely believes that it wasn't his fault, but can't figure out why he left. Once a star student, Kelly is now following a dangerous path. Her mother is pregnant again, presumably to replace the void that her other son has left in their lives. Her world is turned upside down when Jasper returns, however. He appears to be the same brother who she knew, but appearances can be deceiving. Kelly starts to see things - Jasper's new tattoo appears to be moving, and she keeps running into a man that nobody else can see - and realizes that her brother might still be in trouble, and endangering her family at that. But Jasper won't open up to Kelly... so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book - after trying it out so many times and failing to read it, I was beginning to wonder if maybe this book just wasn't for me. It's not often that a book will sit on my shelf for years before I read it and still end up being something worthwhile. This is one of those books.

There was the right amount of mystery and paranormal in here to satisfy me. Unlike some other books I've read recently (*coughcough*Betwixt*coughcough*) if Uninvited promises something's going to happen, it does. The book was paced well, and I didn't find it lagged in action or dialogue at any point.

As usual, I liked Nick, the secondary-character-who-may-be-a-love-interest. I don't know why, but I will never get sick of the best friend who happens to be a guy turning into a love interest. I wish Nick had been in the book more, but the truth is that this book is about Kelly's family, specifically Jasper, and I'm glad that the author didn't stray too far away from what was really important.

The one main complaint I have about this book is the same as I had for Above (see the last review) - the characters are too one-dimensional. Aside from Jasper, who himself feels like your typical bad-boy who usually ends up being the love interest, the other characters just didn't feel as developed as I would have liked them to be. While I like action in my books, I'm a very character-driven reader. I would have liked to learn more about Kelly, to figure out what makes her tick. I would have liked to see more of Archie, too, who seemed promising but didn't live up to my expectations by the end.

It was a good book, I'll give it that. I don't regret reading this. But in the grand scheme of things, this didn't blow me away and didn't offer anything new to the genre. I loved the ending; it took me completely off-guard. Read this one if you can get your hands on it, as it's worth a look, but there are many other books out there that deserve your attention more than this one.

SCORE: 6.7/10
IF YOU LIKE: Uninvited (Amanda Marrone), Ruined (Paula Morris)

Above - Leah Bobet

As you probably know by now, I often pick books out based on their cover. I'm a sucker for pretty artwork and especially pretty dresses. Usually this works out pretty well for me - some of my most favourite books were found that way (I'm looking at you, Wither). Every now and then, this method completely fails me. This is the case with this book.

Above looks pretty fantastic if we're basing this simply on an aesthetic level. There's a girl with bee wings on the cover, the CN Tower (go, Canada!) and a quote from Emma Donoghue, whose book (Room) I LOVED. I read the blurb on the jacket and it seemed interesting, so I borrowed it from work. It's not often I find a good book from Canada, and I was hoping that this would be the one.

Oh yeah, the plot. Matthew, a strange boy (though everyone in this book is strange) saved Ariel, a girl who can change into a bee, a while ago. Since then he has become incredibly infatuated with her, though it's hard for him to tell if the feeling is mutual. Matthew is the Teller of Safe - he keeps the stories of their refuge's past, as well as the origin stories of all of the people who live there. "Origin stories" sounds as if I were talking about superheroes, but I might as well be - people who live in Safe have found themselves there because they are different and are not/do not want to be accepted in the normal world. They are each abnormal in their own way: some have scales, some have animal limbs, others can turn into bees, see ghosts, shoot lightning. They have a pretty good system going on: raid Above whenever they need supplies, and stay put underground the rest of the time. Except an old enemy has shown up; one that threatens their entire existence. Safe is destroyed, and only a few people - including Matthew and Ariel - manage to escape.

Okay, so I've probably just made it sound like something you might want to read. This is where I was when I started. But there are a few things that I wish someone would have told me before I started.

1. The book is told from Matthew's perspective: This is the main problem I have with this book. The problem is not that the book is told in a guy's voice rather than a girl's... it's that Matthew is not able to speak properly. Being born and raised in Safe, I suppose nobody taught him the real way to talk, though most other people around him appeared to use normal words and sentence structure. This is not the same with Matthew. Don't believe me? "...because I know that look from Tales, the kind where people stare five feet into the distance for the Telling and you need to help to Tell them, like a hand light on the curve of the back." This is one of the more normal sentences. Some things in this book I had to reread multiple times, and I only read 20 pages in a whole day because I couldn't grasp the plot or the characters.

2. It's incredibly hard to follow what's happening: Tying into the last point, it's very difficult to follow the action or make sense of the plot. This is probably mostly due to Matthew's way of speaking, but it deserves its own point nonetheless. Three-quarters of the way through the book, I had NO idea what had happened, or what was currently happening. I understood individual events, but I just wasn't getting into it enough to say what was going on. If asked, I would not have been able to explain the plot to that point. By the end of the book, this had cleared up a little for me, but I don't think a book should confuse its readers up until the ending. I don't mean this in the same way as I would mean it for a mystery book - it's not that I was trying to figure out whodunnit, but rather didn't have a grasp of what the plot was actually supposed to BE. I had problems keeping track of characters, as well, and some I just gave up on figuring out.

3. The characters were one-dimensional: Or at least, what I could understand of them. Sure, at the end a little was revealed about the motivations of some people and why they did what they did, but I feel that there were just too many characters and not enough development on each of them. The author tries to fix this by adding random origin stories throughout the novel, but it's just not enough to make the characters intriguing and interesting. For characters with such strange deformities and origins, I would have expected a lot more in terms of development. This is the first book I have read in a long time that I don't feel attached to any of the characters by the book's end.

I wish that I could say I liked this book, I really do. I hate writing a bad review, and this may be the exact book for someone else, but it wasn't for me. It's rare I find a teen book that I don't enjoy, but here we are. If you're still thinking about trying it, by all means, do. The writing I imagine was supposed to be poetic, so perhaps you'll appreciate it and take much more out of this book than I did. I may try another book by Leah Bobet at some point, but not if the writing is still this way.

SCORE: 2.5/10
IF YOU LIKE: Wither (Lauren DeStefano) *Not because it's similar to this in any way, but because I love it and have to recommend you SOMETHING here!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Taming - Eric Walters and Teresa Toten

Opening line: The noises in my head got louder.

If you're anything like me, Shakespeare makes you cringe. His writing has been ruined for me thanks to many school projects and assignments about his work, so I never really think of going out and reading his books on my own. However, I really seem to enjoy adaptations (generally pretty loose adaptations) or modernizations of his work. In the case of The Taming of the Shrew, the only "version" of the story I know is in the form of 10 Things I Hate About You, which I'm assuming is not a very accurate representation of the original play.

I got an ARC of "The Taming" before it came out, and was pleased to find out that the plot revolved around a school's production of The Taming of the Shrew. As you've probably guessed, the story of the characters who will be in this play also follows a similar plot to the original Shakespeare. Let's dive into the plot, shall we?

Katie, an average, 'invisible' girl at school who only has two friends (and would blend into the wallpaper if she could) does NOT like being the center of attention. The one place she feels at home is on stage, where she comes entirely out of her shell and really becomes her character. Evan, on the other hand, is a spoiled rich boy who loves the attention of others and goes out of his way to be noticed. He's a new kid at school, and has gotten more attention from the other students in his short time at the school than Katie has her entire school career. When they both get cast in the high school production of TTOTS, they start to spend lots of time together. Katie's not like any of the other girls Evan has known (or dated), but he's as intrigued by her as she is by him. They start a relationship - one that is as intense and dangerous as it is loving and sweet.

This is the kind of book I'm on the fence about. While I enjoyed it - I read it in one sitting - by the end I felt a little underwhelmed. The story is told in alternating viewpoints, with both Katie and Evan having about equal page time. By being able to see into both characters' heads, it wasn't hard to guess the characters' motivations. I don't know if it was supposed to be a shock or anything, but I thought it was obvious enough so I'll say it: Katie is VERY naive and innocent, and Evan is a 'reformed' bad-boy who enjoys manipulating people.

I didn't like the way the characters behaved at the end. I find it hard to believe, as someone who went through high school with kids similar to these, that someone who has acted one way for their entire lives suddenly, in the span of a few days, has a complete 180 in behaviour and starts acting a different way. I don't know, maybe it's just me... but the two main characters, particularly Katie, were not as believable at the end.

I really did like how Katie became a different person onstage, though. I think of myself like that - embarrassingly shy in person, but the moment I hit the stage, I'm in my element. I can be whoever you want me to be, and will (try, at least) to command your attention while I'm there. Katie was exactly like this, and I like when I can recognize parts of myself and people I know in book characters. I also really liked the secondary character of Travis, Katie's friend. He was well-written and I wish he would have had more development over the course of the book.

Ultimately, I liked it enough. It wasn't my favourite book by far, but it kept my attention and I didn't feel as if I had wasted my time by the end of it. I wish there had been more humor, as it's based on one of Shakespeare's comedies, and some of the subject matter wouldn't be appropriate for younger readers. I won't be keeping this one (I have limited space!) but I'll be passing it along to friends, as I'm confident enough that they'll enjoy it.

SCORE: 6.5/10
IF YOU LIKE: Jane (April Lindner)